Wings Gain Coach, Lose Trainer

The Detroit Red Wings filled one glaring void in their staff only to be left with another. After naming Dave Lewis as their new head coach, they announced that head trainer John Wharton was leaving the team.

Lewis had served as the Red Wings associate coach for the past fourteen seasons before getting pegged for the head coaching job left vacant by the retirement of Scotty Bowman. Red Wings players applaud his promotion.

“Nine years as assistant under Scotty is like getting a degree from Harvard,” veteran defenseman Chris Chelios said. “You know what, everybody’s got a great rapport with him. I think it would have been tough to bring in somebody from the outside with the group of guys we have, and with Lewie, we won’t have to change the system. He knows what page we’re all on. I think it’s going to work out fine.”

Lewis is a former NHL defenseman who spent time with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils and the Red Wings before retiring in 1987.

“Being a former player is one of his biggest strengths,” Detroit captain Steve Yzerman said. “He knows where guys should be on the ice, and if he sees a player do something, he can break it down instantaneously and explain what happened. He knows everybody’s responsibilities.”

While Lewis was named head coach, trainer John Wharton decided to leave the team to pursue other options. Assistant Piet Van Zant has been promoted to fill Wharton’s position.

“It’s just time,” Wharton said Tuesday. “When I first got into being a trainer, I told myself I would do it for 10 years. They flew by. I stayed another year. We won the Stanley Cup. It would be really easy to be Johnny Wharton, Red Wings trainer, forever, but I just feel like I’m not growing personally or professionally anymore, so it’s time for a change. I might want to write a book. I have a couple of screenplays I’ve thought about. There are a lot of things that are inside me bottled up, and sticking around being a trainer is not going to let them out.”

Wharton doesn’t have any definite plans for his future, but looks forward to having more time to spend with his family.

Dandenault Re-ups With Wings

The Detroit Red Wings resigned defenseman Mathieu Dandenault on Thursday, coming to terms with the restricted free agent for a one-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Dandenault won his third Stanley Cup with Detroit this spring, although he played only three total games in the 1997 and 1998 championships.

Detroit selected Dandenault in the second round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. After starting his career as a forward, he has been shifted back and forth from wing to the blueline before finally settling in on defense last season.

“Mathieu played a valuable role in our Stanley Cup success this past season,” general manager Ken Holland said. “He has shown steady improvement throughout his career and we’re happy to have him on our team as we defend the Cup in 2002-03.”

With the signing of Dandenault, the Red Wings have four remaining restricted free agents left to resign. Igor Larionov, Jiri Slegr and Steve Duchesne are all unrestricted free agents who played with Detroit last season.

The NHL announced their schedule on Wednesday. The Red Wings will open the season on a West Coast swing before returning home to raise their Stanley Cup banner against the Montreal Canadiens.

A Tale of Two Signings

In a matter of hours on Tuesday, the Red Wings brought back their number two defenseman by signing Chris Chelios and replaced retired netminder Dominik Hasek by coming to terms with former Toronto Maple Leafs Curtis Joseph. One busy day of free agency filled almost all of the Red Wings’ needs.

Joseph, 35, was signed in the early morning. He annaounced his signing with Detroit at a press conference in Toronto, where he bid a tearful farewell to the fans of his hometown team. He was introduced to the Detroit media later in the day at a Joe Louis Arena press conference.

Cujo turned down a bigger offer from the Leafs to come to Hockeytown, saying he was “excited about the Red Wings organization” and that “everyone knows what the Ilitch’s are about.”

Chelios, 40, remained the Red Wings’ oldest defenseman by signing a two-year deal later Tuesday evening.

His brief time as a free agent was the first time in his career he was without a team and he said he hated it. “But I guarantee you one thing, I’ll never be a free agent again. It’s no fun. I felt I was doing the right thing by the Players Association, plus, I’ve never done it before. I’m just glad everything worked out.”

Cheios is high on Joseph despite reports that he and Brett Hull pushed for the signing of Ed Belfour. “We were fortunate to have Dominik here, and to replace him with a guy like Cujo is great,” Chelios said. “He’s been one of the best goaltenders over the past decade. It’s a great job by the organization to get him.”

Following Tuesday’s signings, the Red Wings have only unrestricted free agent Igor Larionov left to sign, as well as a group of restricted free agents including Mathieu Dandenault, Jiri Fischer and Darren McCarty. Scotty Bowman‘s replacement as head coach is expected to be named next week.

CuJo Comes to Hockeytown

The Red Wings filled the void left in the crease by the retirement of Dominik Hasek on Tuesday, signing Curtis Joseph to a three-year contract worth $24 million.

Joseph comes off a season where he carried the heavily-injured Toronto Maple Leafs to the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes. Raised near Toronto, Joseph said it was difficult to leave his home team.

“It wasn’t a simple decision, that’s for sure.” he said at a Joe Louis Arena press conference. He also said he had to “weigh the pros and cons” and that the Wings gave him an “offer that was tough to refuse.”

Joseph, like Hasek before him, comes to Detroit as an acclaimed netminder who has never won the Stanley Cup. He twice made the Conference Finals, only to be eliminated by Hasek’s Buffalo Sabres in 1999 and the Hurricanes this year.

After holding a late-morning press conference in Toronto, where he was emotional in telling his old team that he was leaving, Joseph came to Detroit to announce his signing.

While saddened by leaving his home town, Joseph was not hesitant to come to greener pastures. “I’m excited about the Red Wings organization,” he stated. “Everyone knows what the Ilitch’s are about.”

“That’s the only mentality in Detroit, it’s the Cup or else.”

“With the loss of Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joseph was our first priority.” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said, later adding, “He’s our number one choice, we just think he’s the best goalie available.”

With Joseph’s signing in Detroit and Ed Belfour’s in Toronto, only Byron Dafoe and Mike Richter are left from the original pool of free agent goaltenders. The Rangers, Flyers and Blues are all reportedly still searching for a goalie.

The Eagle has Landed

Moving quickly to replace goaltender Curtis Joseph, who will sign a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings today, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed netminder Ed “The Eagle” Belfour to a two-year contract. The signing will be announced at a 2:00 PM press conference.

The Maple Leafs will be Belfour’s fourth NHL team. He broke into the league with the Chicago Blackhawks but was traded to the San Jose Sharks amid controversy. Belfour then signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars, leading them to a Stanley Cup Championship in 1999.

Dallas announced shortly after their season ended without making the playoffs that they would not resign Belfour. Then later traded his rights to the Nashville Predators in return for a draft pick.

Belfour has been one of the game’s top goaltenders but is coming off a season that saw him go 21-27-11 with a .895 save percentage, his worst in ten years.

This is the second time this year that Belfour has taken over for Joseph. After Joseph lost the position as starting goaltender for Team Canada in the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Belfour replaced him as the backup, leaving Joseph as the third-string goalie.

Belfour comes to Toronto with baggage. In a 2001 incident, Belfour spit and kicked at officers, who used pepper spray to subdue him. While being taken to jail, he offered $100,000 for officers to let him go, then offered $1 billion.

Joseph to Sign With Wings

Curtis Joseph, widely reguarded as the best goaltender available in this summer’s crop of free agents, is reportedly set to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. A late-morning press conference has been called to announce the signing.

Joseph, a Calgary Flames for two days after his rights were traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has also played with the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers. He backstopped the Maple Leafs to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002 and played for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Reportedly, Joseph spurned a three-year, $26 million deal from the Maple Leafs to accept a $24 million, three year deal with incentives for a fourth year and bonuses for winning the Stanley Cup.

Joseph comes to Detroit to replace Dominik Hasek, who retired after leading the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup Championship this spring.

The thirty-five year old Joseph made it clear that he intended to come to a Cup contender. Joseph has never won the Stanley Cup.

It will be the second time in the last three attempts that the Red Wings will try to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions while riding a different goalie. After winning in 1997, Mike Vernon was sent to San Jose as Chris Osgood sucessfully defended the Wings’ championship. Osgood was kept around after the 1998 Cup win. Hasek led the Wings to the 2002 Cup but retired last week.

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